Now it came to pass in the seventh month that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the royal [a]family and of the officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah. And there they ate bread together in Mizpah. 2 Then Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men who were with him, arose and struck Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, and killed him whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. 3 Ishmael also struck down all the Jews who were with him, that is, with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans who were found there, the men of war.
A leader of one of the raiders against Babylon who had not joined the defenders inside the walls of Jerusalem, aligned his band with Gedaliah. According to his intel Ishmael was conspiring with the king of Amman to assassinate Gedaliah. Gedaliah dismissed the accusation in wanton display of incredulity and self- deception.
The assassination was planned when Gedaliah was dining at his table and unprepared for an assault against his person. Ishmael the invited guest murdered his host with just ten other men, although Gedaliah had a protection squad of Chaldeans and the friendly presence of other Judeans. was caught off his guard and was defenseless. Perhaps Ishmael was armed and the people surrounding Gedaliah had no weapons available during the feast.
In Zechariah 7:5 the reference to the fast of the seventh month seems to be a reference to this murder which was in the seventh month. The people mourned the death of Gedaliah during the captivity. Gedaliah was responsible for more than just his own death. The text refers to all the Judeans with Gedaliah at Mizpah and the all the Chaldean there as well. Then eighty men come from various parts of Israel on a pilgrimage, in a blood lust of greed and exploitation Ishmael kills all but ten of these men. He does not even give them a decent burial but throws their corpses in a well. This murderous rampage seems more than simple revenge against Babylon. It indicates an avaricious appetite for wealth and power against people innocent of conspiring with Babylon.
Often David is portrayed by Christian scholars as paranoid in such verses as
12 Those also who seek my life lay snares for me;
Those who seek my hurt speak of destruction,
And plan deception all the day long.
14 Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion
Who seek to destroy my [a]life;
Let them be driven backward and brought to dishonor
Who wish me evil.
5 My enemies speak evil of me:
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
6 And if he comes to see me, he speaks [c]lies;
From the couches of the commentators who dwell in secure countries with police and secure borders this may be paranoia but the history of the Bible and secular history is abundant in assassinations of kings and governors.
Sennacherib king of Assyria was assassinated in 681 BC.
32 Kings 19
6 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. 37 Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the temple of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
Asa King of Judah in 870 BC
1 Kings 16
8 In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah, Elah the son of Baasha became king over Israel, and reigned two years in Tirzah. 9 Now his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him as he was in Tirzah drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, steward[c] of his house in Tirzah. 10 And Zimri went in and struck him and killed him in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned in his place.
Nadab King of Israel 909 BC
1 Kings 15
25 Now Nadab the son of Jeroboam became king over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. 26 And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin.
27 Then Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him. And Baasha killed him at Gibbethon
Amon King of Judah 641 BC
2 Kings 21
19 Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Meshullemeth the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah. 20 And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done. 21 So he walked in all the ways that his father had walked; and he served the idols that his father had served, and worshiped them. 22 He forsook the Lord God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord.
23 Then the servants of Amon conspired against him, and killed the king in his own house.
Perhaps because of this murder the third deportation of Jews to Babylon occurred. There were three deportations of Jews to Babylon. The first deportation was in 597 at the death of Jehoiakim and the surrender of Jerusalem by his son Jehoiachin. Eleven years later Jerusalem was conquered under Zedekiah 586 BC. According to Jeremiah 52:30 5 years after the fall of Jerusalem the third deportation occurred. The timing is consistent with the assassination.
During the Jewish captivity in Babylon the Jews observed a fast to remember this tragedy (Zech. 7:5; 8:19).
Why was Ishmael able to overcome eighty men with only ten men? He used deception by pretending grief, even putting on an act of mourning. He lies to the men by greeting them with a reference to Gedaliah. The pilgrims who may not have been armed were taken by surprise at a vulnerable moment.
The assassination of Gedaliah was at Mizpah about 5 miles north of Jerusalem. The eighty pilgrims were from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria between 10 and fifty miles north of Jerusalem. King Asa had use the defensive works of Ramah, a city of his enemy Baasha, to build the fortified works of Mizpah. Recent excavations at el- Jib which is s 6 miles northwest of Jerusalem found a large pit feet deep with steps carved on its sides. This could have been the pit mentioned at Mizpah.
Once Johanan was informed of the murders committed by Ishmael he initiated a chase of the murderers. Since Gedaliah had a retinue of captives, he moved slower than Johanan. He caught up with the captives and Ishmael at the pool of Gibeon. This is not far from Mizpah, it north of Jerusalem and just a few miles from Mizpah.
The pool is a famous place in the life of David. Twelve men of David and twelve men of Abner lined up in a duel between the two groups. Each man drew their swords and killed his rival in one motion, with all twenty-four dying.
It is not readily apparent if there was an actual battle or not but Johanan caused Ishmael to flee and he escaped with 8 men, two short of the original 10.